Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day 116: if... (1968) - Rank 3.5/5


As stange as it may seem, upon reflection of viewing the film, I feel it would make an interesting companion piece to Gus Van Sant's "Elephant." Both films examine the "unnatural" response of students to undue pressure from their classmates and teachers. Both also feature a climax where students and administrators alike are slaughtered at the hands of the dogged few who decide to strike back. However, while "Elephant" is an exercise in the subtle, low key and "realistic" nature of filmmaking, Lindsay Anderson's "if..." could be considered anything but.

Malcolm McDowell lights up the screen in his breakthrough role as Mick Travis, a junior at a private boys academy in England. He plays the role with such ferocity that it undoubtedly inspired Kubrick to both cast McDowell as Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" as well as portray Private Pyle in "Full Metal Jacket" in the manner he did. It's obvious from the start as he arrives at school at the start of the year donning a Guy Fawkes look that he's a rabblerouser by nature. We're never given the backstory behind his behavior and it soon becomes inconsequential as the film displays one shocking punishment or hazing after the next, from extended stays in cold showers and caning, to the freshmen boys taking on forced homoerotic roles at the pleasures of the senior enforcers (aka: whips). Many of the wild acts that Mick engages in, from drinking in his room to stealing a motorcycle, could be seen as outlets for his repressed rage towards his superiors.

The rage culminates in a school shooting that seems more farcical than fearsome, and I think that's where the film lost creditability with me a bit. Granted, much of the film had been presented as tongue-in-cheek throughout the film (especially from the point of view of a teacher), but the violence was typically shown with a serious tone. I scarcely found myself grinning during the extended caning scene. Rather, a pained grimace was across my face. But when a bullet is sent into the head of the school headmaster, I chuckled. Granted, the scene was played for dark comedy, but I don't think it should have been. That was the stage at which the film needed to really be hitting its point home, and considering the theme of the film and the tone leading up to it, "if..." didn't need to leave viewers with a smile.

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